We Who Survived - 4 - Note from Catherine - part 2
Owing to the location and the evaporation in the spring of alkali ponds near by, Waiilatpu was not
healthy. The mill pond was near by, and we were more or less troubled with chills and fever in warm weather. I was very subject to it, and suffered every summer of my stay there, being often unable to labor.
As the eldest daughter, I had supervision of the other girls, and from being confined to the house so much I became the constant companion of Mrs. Whitman. An attachment near to that of mother and daughter existed between us from this constant association. To me she told all her plans for the pleasure or improvement of the children, as well as her fears and troubles concerning them. When the doctor was long absent I sat with her and read or conversed, and was her bedfellow. She said often she could not get along without me.
The spring after we arrived brother Francis resolved to run away to the lower country with those who had wintered there. His reason was he disliked the strict discipline maintained. The doctor was away, and when Francis started to go Mrs. Whitman urged him pleasantly to stay, but he went on the run, mounted his horse, and was off before the wagons moved which he was to accompany. She had not succeeded in winning the boy's confidence and affection, and Francis was stubborn.
Efforts were made to overtake him and get him to come back, but they were unavailing. He went to
the Willamette and remained there.
On his return Dr. Whitman talked with John and found he was willing to remain. He then made a
proposal to aid the boys to get a start in cattle and horses, so that they would be acquiring property. This was made known to Francis by a letter, and a horse sent for him, so that in the fall we had the
pleasure of again becoming a united family.
In the spring of 1845 the Cayuses were embroiled in war with the Snakes. A Cayuse family named Prince was going to the buffalo country to hunt, and on the way camped on a small stream in the Snake region, opposite a camp of Snake Indians. One morning Prince with his servant rode
over to see the other camp. His horse stood all day tied at the Snake lodge, but the mother did not go to learn about him, because her daughter said it would be foolish. Toward night the horse
disappeared, and during the night the Snake camp also disappeared. Going over there, the mother and daughter found the dead bodies of servant and master. War resulted, in which many Cayuses lost their lives, including some of their chiefs. We saw them come home from their war raids, and heard and saw them singing war songs, dancing their war dances, and then they would change to a funeral dirge for their dead warriors. After a successful raid they would spend days in celebrating their victory and reciting the prowess of their own warriors. The beating of drums and their war-whoops and songs filled the air with savage sounds. The monotonous tones of the Indian flute
mellowed the horrors of the din a little.
One Sunday morning in the autumn of 1845 two men arrived at the station. One of them, Andrew Rodgers, was a young man of about twenty-five, tall and slender, sandy hair and sallow look that betokened ill-health. He sang hymns and played the violin, so the "Seceders," to which church he belonged, turned him out. His gentlemanly appearance and intelligence won the admiration of Dr. and Mrs. Whitman. He came to procure room and care for a friend who was ill with consumption.
He succeeded in this and was also engaged to teach school the ensuing winter. Going to Umatilla, he soon returned with his friend, Joseph Finley, who took board with the family of Mr. Osborne, his relative. He had made the journey to Oregon hoping for improved health. For awhile he improved and seemed stronger. Dr. and Mrs. Whitman became much attached to him. He was one day taken worse when at their house and never left it. They made him comfortable and attended to him as if he were a son or brother. He died very happy, bidding all good-by and thanking his friends for all their care of him. All gathered round the death-bed, and the scene was very impressive as he gave his last farewell to all around him.
Mr. Rodgers was an excellent teacher and the Whitmans were very pleased that he became converted after entering our family, and before long he was studying for the ministry. Before he came most of the children could read only poorly except the three eldest but after his teaching they were all quite good scholars.
About this time the station had a visit from a band of Delaware Indians, under the leadership of Tom
Hill, who was very intelligent and could speak English as well as Cayuse. Dr. Whitman made a feast for them and invited the leading Cayuses and others. The indispensable item of an Indian feast was
corn mush. A large kettle was suspended over a fire in the yard and the mush was made by putting in tallow and stirring in meal or flour. When cooked the kettle was taken indoors and placed on the floor. The doctor was master of ceremonies and the rest came in order of rank. The doctor and the chiefs dipped their spoons in the big kettle, but common people had dishes served and ate out of them. Some acted as waiters. They had tea, sweetened. We children were looking on, and it
amused us to see what a quantity of sugar they used - all that the tea could hold. It was evening and the family occupied a bench on one side of the big room, which was crowded. It was well lighted with
candles, and they ate in silence, except the sipping noise peculiar to Indians eating. Their performances at the trencher were so amusing to us that occasionally Mrs. Whitman had to send us outdoors to have our laugh out. When the feast was over the room was cleared and put in order for the speech. Tom Hill delivered an address that lasted two hours and was quite eloquent. We could understand the Cayuse talk, but the Indians did not know it. We were not allowed to learn it, and kept as much as possible away from the Indians, but constantly hearing the language spoken, we could not help but learn the meaning of it, though we could not speak it well. After the massacre they soon found out that we understood their talk. Mrs. Whitman always treated them politely and kindly, thanking them forevery little favor they did her.
The next spring Mr. Rodgers was away much of the time at the Spokane mission, conducted by Messrs. Walker and Eells. Dr. Whitman was absent at the saw mill or breaking up land for the Indians and plotting in their crops. Mrs. Whitman and the girls spent the time at home and found enough to employ them to prevent feeling lonesome. We studied botany with her and rambled over
the country in search of flowers and plants.
A bad man was named Tomahas, meaning murderer, as he had once killed a man. One day the doctor was at work in his field when this man rode up and ordered him, peremptorily, to go and grind a grist for him. When the doctor objected to his talking and acting so, he said he could grind it for
himself, and started for the mill. The doctor could walk across sooner and did so. Tomahas came at him there with a club, but saw an iron bar in his hand. They had a serious time of it, both with words
and blows, but the iron bar was a full match for the club, and Tomahas finally agreed to behave himself and have his grist ground. Exhausted in body and mind, the doctor came to the house and threw himself down, saying that if they would only say so he would gladly leave, for he was tired almost beyond endurance.
It is hardly possible to conceive of a greater change than Dr. Whitman had worked in the life
of the Cayuses. They were now growing fields, could have good homes, a mill to grind their meal, and they were taught things of the greatest use, yet some of them could not realize that he was
unselfish in all this.
The following winter was very cold, the coldest ever known in the country and the Indians charged
the whites with bringing the cold weather upon them. Old Jimmy, a Catholic Indian, claimed the power of working miracles, and said he brought the cold upon them to punish them for their unbelief and wickedness. They paid him liberally to bring about a change, and finally a thaw did come and he claimed all the merit of it.
The doctor made his fall visit to the valley, bringing back something for each one of us. He always
remembered the children when he went to the valley, and brought us all some token of his love. He piloted the emigrants by a nearer and better route to The Dalles, and learned with apprehension that the last of the train were afflicted with measles and whooping cough. He knew they would spread through the native camps and feared the consequences. None of his own family had had the measles and but few of the others.
This fall brother John had his horse saddled to return to The Dalles to reside, but at Mr. Whitman's
earnest request he consented to remain. Had he gone there he might now be living! Laying aside his gun, he now devoted himself to his studies. He rose early, at 4 o'clock, and wrote, but I never knew
what he wrote about, as the papers were all destroyed after the massacre.
The measles were among the natives, and in the doctor's absence Mrs. Whitman was their
physician. All arrangements were made for the winter, teachers were employed, and all things were in order. The emigration had brought a Canadian half-breed named Joe Lewis, who was so disagreeable that they refused to let him travel farther in their company. Dr. Whitman reluctantly gave him some work. He tried to send him below with a company, but in a few days he was back again, so the doctor reluctantly engaged him for the winter. He was destitute of clothes and was supplied. We all disliked him, but he was well used and kindly treated. Yet this wretch laid the careful plans and told the terrible lies that led to the massacre, and took an active part in murder and robbery.